Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is War Just?

If the issue of gender is a touchy subject (see my last post here), then this one is absolutely aggrevating! The issue of war, and whether or not it is just is a difficult question, and one that is wrapped up with all sorts of other issues. I think it is important for us to remember two things before we get started:

First, we must remember the context of this blog post. We have a tendency to put God in our box by asking "Would God really?" Would God really say its ok to kill for your country? Would God really ask you to lay down arms and not defend yourself, your family, or your country? Remember, we are not trying to find out what we think, but simply what does the Bible say. We must examine it faithfully, then allow ourselves to be changed by it.

Second, please remember that I am not writing this to judge our current wars (although that is always a by-product of writing on this topic). I do not write this from a political opinion, nor do I do so because I am anti-American. I love this country. I only write to try to look honestly at what God teaches. Can we agree to leave the current political situation alone for now?

With those two prerequisites, let us begin to examine this difficult issue.

The Nature of God has never changed.

We know from careful study of Scripture that God is always the same--he has not changed who he is. The New Testament is not God 2.0. He is the same and is just in what he desires and what he does. So we cannot conclude that God's stance on war has changed from the Old to the New Testament.

We know that God used war in the Bible to accomplish his will. In fact, the best example of this is found in the New Testament, as we see God warn the people of Israel that Rome was coming to destroy the temple during the generation following Jesus (Matthew 24 and Revelation are full of these warnings). The God of the universe uses war to accomplish his purposes in the world.

But God uses all things to accomplish his plan.

Romans 8:28 teaches us an important lesson: God allowing or even using an event does not make that event just. God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. God can use sinful decisions, barbaric actions, and destructiveness to accomplish his will in the world. This should lead us to the realization that everything done by the Romans, though it would accomplish God's purpose, was not of God. It was not good, even if it worked for good. We have enough common sense to know that war is not good, bloodshed is a sign of something wrong in the world. The cross of Christ was a terrible thing, but it was a terrible thing that God used to accomplish his most extraordinary work of making good out of bad!

Can it be sin when God decrees it?

So we head back to the Old Testament. God's people are commanded by God to kill every man, woman, child, and livestock living in the promised land. Genocide. God commanded genocide. Uncomfortable? So am I. (Now is a good time to remember that God is God, trusting him sometimes means trusting what we don't understand).

If God commanded this, it could not be sin for the Israelites to follow through. God does not command sin, his decrees are just. We must, therefore, realize that there is at least some moments that war are just. However, we must also realize that this was a very particular situation that God specifically, and orally, commanded! This does not give us the right to make war in the name of God! Has he verbally told us to fight, kill, etc?

The nations are given the sword to govern.

We also see, in the Old and New Testament, the truth that God has given the sword to the nations (the governments I believe is the context) to wield for justice sake. This tells us that there are just wars! There can be a war fought to end injustice, there can be justice found in the shedding of blood. I would like to point out, however, that we do not see the sword bringing peace in Scripture. The idea of wars to end war is not a biblically founded concept, and I would argue that it is also illogical.

The nations have the sword, but what about His holy nation?

We now come to the crux of the issue: What about Christians? Can Christians fight? Should Christians fight? I want to consider three aspects that come into play as we talk about the Christian role in war: the nation of Christ, the peacemakers, and the martyrs.

The nation of Christ

Isaiah 2 presents a picture of beautiful hope. The hope is that when the Messiah is established on his throne, the nations will beat their swords into agricultural equipment. In other words, as the nation of Christ grows, and his reign is established, warfare will lose its appeal and need. This is a great picture of hope that often gets pushed into the very end of history.

However, Jesus tells us that all authority on heaven and on earth has already been given to him! His reign is already started! Though his reign will find consummation in the end of this age and the ushering in of the eternal age and kingdom, there should be visible signs of his reign now! His church is that visible kingdom on earth--we are the ones who have abandoned the earthly hopes to hold on to his hope. We are those who have begun beating our swords into something else!

The peacemakers

Matthew 5 tells us that peacemakers are sons of God. We have really done this verse injustice. We remove its power by spending all of our time talking about inner peace. NO! Peacemakers are people who do just that: make peace where none exists! This can be inner peace, but it can also be inner-city peace, peace in the midst of a civil war, or a war between countries. Peace in families, communities, and nations. Is this not why we love Mandela and Tutu? We know that they had the right idea! Christians are called to be peacemakers, because we are called sons of God. This is a bold step away from the "for God and country" approach that has carried over from Medieval Europe.

The martyrs

We now turn to those who have died for their faith in Christ. Tortured, beaten, and in the midst of it offering forgiveness and peace to those around them. When we read their stories, we feel a yearning to connect with them. We know they have found the better way, the way of Christ. Sometimes ushering in Christ's reign means pointing back to the cross.

Laying down of my rights, and my life, to show you Christ (and how he laid down his rights, life!).

Perhaps we do have the right to fight back, but let me finish by asking this:

How do you best display your Lord, through the sword or sacrifice?

Grace and Peace.

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